Tech Brand Talk

Gotta have my tunes all day.

by Blogger ‎04-28-2010 05:34 PM - edited ‎09-22-2010 06:57 PM

Not sure if you're like me, but I have music playing from first thing in the morning, until 45 minutes after my head hits the pillow. I can't explain exactly how that came about, but to say that it's been that way since my early teens. Never has it been so easy... or confusing... to have music on all the time. How to choose? Well obviously, quality sometimes takes a back seat to convenience. I have two iPods, a mac mini ,  XM, a Blu-ray player, and a cable box connected to my house system. So at 7:30 am, the keypad on the wall and the espresso machine go on. Remarkably, I can actually multi-task and hit both buttons at once, before coffee has even passed my lips.

I'll start mellow typically. Maybe Allison Kraus and Robert Plant. Vintage Miles Davis.  Or Radiohead's Rainbows.   Additional keypads engage Klipsch in-ceiling speakers as I shuffle through my morning routine. Yes... tunes in the shower too. If the sounds don't suit my mood, I am but a button press away from "next". Easy eh?

It was not always so. Certain of my diehard audiophile friends turn up their noses at in-ceiling speakers and iPods. I get that. Nothing like a well setup pair of floorstanding towers, and a dialed-in subwoofer playing from a high quality source and an amplifier built like a truck. No TV. No chatter. Just beautiful music.


"But I don't have time for that these days", you say. Yeah, me too... But recently, I've been making the time for exactly that. It's great! The shoulders relax. Unfurrowed brow. The day's agenda melts away for a short while. Do I see you nodding in agreement?  It's made me dig back through my collection for gems that I have lost over time to the convenience of shuffle mode. I'm only talking about 20- 40 minutes after work or last thing in my day. I'm sure I will live longer if I keep this up. The cats like it too.


But here's a point: how many have ever really experienced a great stereo system? I don't mean mega-buck rigs that are in the stratosphere. I mean well chosen, carefully matched components, with every setup detail attended to. Eyes closed, speakers disappear, the room boundaries dissolve, revealing a great performance. Transporting listener to a smokey club in another time. Or a concert performance you vaguely remember from your hazy past. It's all part of your personal soundtrack for your life.


Asking my friends what I should say in this Brand Talk forum, I came to understand a couple of things: most are unsure how to determine sound quality. " It's wasted on me. I can't tell the difference. " or " it sounds good to me, but I can't tell you why." Maybe that's something we could explore here? I mean, if you move up a model in speakers, what should you expect? What's the best choice for my room or musical bent? Eternal quests to be sure, but certainly worthy of conversation.  Another related realization: most are unsure of "the chain". I'm talking about the hierarchy of source, processing (if applicable), amplification, cabling, speakers and of course, the room. What role does each play in the final result? What could I do to get the best out of my set-up? We'll talk...


I've been very lucky ( and persistent!). As a young musician, believing I was going to make it, and never work a day at a regular job, I had the good fortune to play music most nights of the week, tour Australia (I used to live there) with a couple of bands... and even record some stuff in the studio. I was so dismayed to discover that what we so carefully recorded, when heard on our stereo at the "band house" sounded like $#*!!. So began my quest...

I haunted the stores, asked questions, saved my $$ for better gear, talked to the tech's that ran our concert PA system. Learned all I could about sound. Learned to run the big touring system. Asked more questions...


Then one day, several years later when reality had set in, I walked into an audio store and asked for a job. Right. Who's gonna hire a starving musician that looks like he can't afford to pay attention! Well, it turns out that the guy running the place was overjoyed that he could count on someone like me to help people find musical joy. "Wow... you know how all this stuff works." To this day, that's still where I find the greatest satisfaction.

I ran into that last month in Calgary, still managing a store. I reminded him of that job interview. He smiled.


So it turns out I've been rambling, and I've said nothing about my brands: Klipsch and Energy speakers. The best of US and Canadian speaker heritage! I didn't even go near home theatre and surround sound! What am I thinking?

Well there's time for that... We haven't even met yet.  I would love to hear your thoughts on music, quality playback...and great wines under 50 bucks.

Cheers. mark_o.

by Recognized Expert / Community Ambassador on ‎04-28-2010 06:27 PM

Mark, I am one of those people who have a hard time expressing what makes a sound system great. Naming those odd flavors of sound is difficult for me. I have an Onkyo receiver, and some very nice mid range Klipsch speakers. Everything is nicely balanced, connected with quality wiring, and calibrated nicely. When I listen to music I close my eyes and allow myself to be transported, to another time, another place. Sometimes the audio creates images and emotions I didn't know were inside myself.


I have been told by many people that Klipsch sounds "fatiguing" or Energy speakers sound "warm". I have no idea what they are talking about. The ephemeral qualities are lost on me. I only know what I like, and I like my sound to be a clear representation of how the audio was recorded. That is definitely what I have.


For me it is about the music. Being able to hear the artist's intent. Before I invested in my current audio system I only had off-the-shelf audio systems, like a boom box or a mini system. Even the audio in my car was only mediocre. When I finally listened to my audio on something that could reproduce all the artist intended... Well it was a revelation.


There were layers to tracks I had heard a hundred times that were completely new to me. Quiet musical tangents lost in the mix, that were revealed for the first time. It has changed the way I thought of much of the music I grew up with. Old music I once loved, have been tarnished. Music I once despised has become integral to my personal audio catalog.


Is what I am listening to "fatiguing" or "bright" or "warm"? I haven't the foggiest what that means. I just know what I like. I know I'll never move backward audio-wise again. I know that when I close my eyes, am I transported. Do I really need to know if a wine is "nutty" or "oaky" or "smoky" flavored to enjoy it? Isn't it enough to enjoy the wine without knowing the terminology that divides us?

by Blogger on ‎05-01-2010 10:48 AM

Hey Kayne. Your first paragraph says it all. That's is exactly what I'm talking about: getting lost in the music. You describe your gear in modest terms, but it sounds like you have taken the time to get the best out of it with attention to detail, speaker positioning and setup. Nicely done.


And I hear what you are saying about the vague vocabulary of those trying to describe what they hear. It happens in all things subjective. Not surprising really. But it's like trying to describe a sunset or the taste of a fine wine. Words are truly inadequate compared to the real thing. I think someone famous said "talking about music is like dancing about architecture." I don't know what that means but it makes me chuckle.


I've heard the same comments about Klipsch being "fatiguing" or "bright". I wonder what the point of reference is? I guess live musical performance is the only valid comparison. If it's another speaker, then the comparison is kind of off the rails IMHO. The benefit of a Constant Directivity, low distortion speaker like a Klipsch is a more dynamic and detailed representation of the music. I would call it "the first five rows" at the concert or club. Live and exciting for sure, but maybe not to everyone's taste. By limiting the horn coverage (Reference series is 90ºwide x 60ºvertical), the effect of the listening room is minimized. Not as much reflection from room boundaries in the mids and high-end as with a dome tweeter. That's why horns are used exclusively in concert venues and professional theatres.

Energy described as "warm" for example? I get that. The design goal is different to Klipsch. By creating the widest possible dispersion pattern (vertical and horizontal), the listener is offered something more like "row 10" at the concert. The listener's room becomes more a of a factor and calls for different positioning to get the best out of it. The resulting sound has a quality that can immerse you in the live event in a very convincing way! Years of development at the National Research Council proved that this exact quality reminds listeners of the real thing: live music.


Those descriptive words?

One person's "bright" is another person's "detail". Another person's "warm" can also sound "distant". Everyone is different. Every room is different. So much for "chocolatey lows and lemony highs" !


When all is considered, you know when the system is working right because music happens. It draws you in and takes you to another place. You know it's good because it gets you closer to believing it's a live performance. Don't worry too much about the words.  Sit back and enjoy.

by Trusted Expert / Community Ambassador on ‎05-02-2010 07:56 AM

Every person hears things differently.  The way a set of speakers will sound to one person will vary greatly from the way someone else hears them.  For some, they need the top of the line systems in order to feel like they are getting the best audio experience they can hear.  For others, they find that perfect niche in a mid-range system.  At the end of the day, it's the way YOU hear it that matters.



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